Farmers harvest cotton in a field in Nana Viramgam village in GujaratThe price of cotton has been falling since the start of this year, both following a global trend and due to worm attacks on the standing crop in Punjab and Gujarat.

The benchmark Shankar-6 variety is quoting at Rs 9,026 a quintal, a four per cent fall over a month. In the same period, the price for delivery in May fell 10 per cent to 57.72 cents a pound on the benchmark InterContinental Exchange (ICE). “Prices dropped due to subdued demand in the domestic spot market. Besides, reports on China preparing to auction some of its vast stockpile of the natural fibre next month had fuelled the downtrend,” said Ajay Kedia, managing director, Kedia Commodity Research.

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The Cotton Advisory Board (CAB) has forecast a 7.5 per cent decline in output at 35.2 million bales (170 kg each) this year as against 38 mn bales last year. Trade sources estimate sowing at 12.6 million hectares, marginally lower than last year’s 12.66 mn. Output, though, is likely to decline by 3.5 mn bales, owing to attacks of white fly in Punjab (travelling from bordering Pakistan) and pinkbollworm impact in Gujarat.

Cotton price slide continues

Genetically modified (Bt) cotton seems to have lost momentum. Between 2002 and 2008, overall yield doubled to 554 kg a ha but has stagnated around this since then and, in fact, has declined in the past two years, though it covers 95 per cent of sown area. CAB data had shown a 70 per cent increase in sowing after Bt technology was adopted, from 7.7 million ha in 2002 to 12.6 mn in 2016.

“We cannot say Bt has not worked but the technology failed to keep momentum going after the initial years. In fact, as against the claims by companies like Monsanto of the Bt seed being bollworm-resistant, the crop witnessed attacks of bollworms in 2016,” said M B Lal, former chairman of Cotton Corporation of India and managing director of Shail Exports, an exporting entity based in this city.

Said a spokesman of Mahyco Monsanto: “Bollgard technology has been widely accepted by India’s cotton farmers and has played a pivotal role in increasing yield from 302 kg/ha lint in 2002-03 to 552 kg/ha lint in 2013-14, generating an additional farm income of Rs 42,300 crore. This has played a key role in transforming India from being an importer of cotton in 2002 to becoming the world’s second largest exporter in 2015.”